Ilse Koch Biography

Ilse Koch, also known as “The Witch of Buchenwald” and “The Beast of Buchenwald,” was the wife of Karl-Otto Koch, the chief of the Nazi concentration camps in Buchenwald and Majdanek. Infamous for her inhuman cruelty towards Jewish prisoners, she was one of the first well-known Nazis to be tried by the U.S. military. Survivors of the Nazi camps described her as a sadistic woman, earning her the nickname “the concentration camp murderess.” Alongside her husband, she lived a life of luxury within the grounds of the Buchenwald camp, indulging in orgies and torturing prisoners. Her collection of lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the tattooed skins of dead inmates further exemplified her brutality. Ilse Koch’s reign of terror and her numerous aliases have solidified her place in history as one of the most infamous figures of the Nazi regime.

Quick Facts

  • German Celebrities Born In September
  • Also Known As: Margarete Ilse Köhler
  • Died At Age: 60
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Karl-Otto Koch
    • Children: Artvin Koch, Gisela Koch, Gudrun Koch, Uwe Köhler
  • War Criminals
  • German Women
  • Died on: September 1, 1967
  • Place of death: Aichach, Germany

Childhood & Early Life

Ilse Koch was born Margaret Ilse Köhler on 22 September 1906 in Dresden, Saxony, German Empire, as the daughter of a factory supervisor. She had a happy and carefree childhood. At the age of 15, she started studying in an accountancy school and began her career as a bookkeeping clerk. In 1932, she became affiliated with the rising Nazi Party. In 1934, her friends in the SA and SS introduced her to Karl Otto Koch, head of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.


In 1936, she started working as a guard and secretary at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. Later that year, she went with her husband Otto Koch to the newly built concentration camp in Buchenwald near Weimar, where she took up the position of a SS-Aufseherin (supervisor). While at Buchenwald, she was involved in a ghastly experiment where she conducted the murders of selected tattooed prisoners. Their tattooed skin was retrieved and used to help a prison doctor, Erich Wagner, in his thesis on tattooing and criminality. In 1940, she built an indoor sports arena using money looted from the prison inmates.

Arrest and Trials

On 24 August 1943, Ilse Koch and her husband were arrested on the orders of Josias von Waldeck-Pyrmont, the SS and Police Leader for Weimar, Buchenwald. They were accused of private fortification, embezzlement, and the murder of potential witnesses. In 1947, Koch was arraigned before the American military court at Dachau and was sentenced to life captivity for violating the laws and customs of war. In 1948, her sentence was reduced to four years due to a lack of evidence. However, in 1949, she was arrested again and faced a seven-week trial before the District Court at Augsburg in West Germany. She was charged with provocation to murder, attempted murder, and committing grave bodily damage. Koch was sentenced to life imprisonment and her civil rights were forfeited.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1936, Ilse Koch married Karl-Otto Koch. During her first trial, she announced in the courtroom that she was pregnant, but it was unclear who the father was. After the death of her husband in April 1945, she lived with her surviving family in Ludwigsburg until her second arrest. Karl and Ilse Koch had two sons, one of whom committed suicide after the war. The other, Uwe, was born in prison while Koch was serving her life sentence. Uwe Köhler visited his mother in prison when he learned of her identity. Ilse Koch committed suicide on 1 September 1967 at Aichach women’s prison. Her body is buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at Aichach. Koch’s life inspired a series of Nazi exploitation films and a noise music compilation released in 1982.

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